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Doctor recommends soap for leg cramps

July 29, 2018

Q: I recently heard from my vascular physician about using a bar of soap in between the sheets to alleviate nocturnal leg cramps.

I began charting the frequency of my leg cramps since I started using the bed soap. I am now down to zero. I have not had any leg cramps for the past three months. I am amazed. I just read that I need to change the soap once the scent fades.

I am now a happy and well-rested woman who does not get up in the middle of the night because of extreme muscle cramping. Whatever it is, even if mind over matter, this method has worked for me.

A: Thank you for sharing this story. We have been writing about putting soap under the bottom sheet for more than a decade. Hearing that a physician is recommending this home remedy is gratifying.

We do not think this is a placebo effect, though many people believe that is the explanation. A physician actually tested a skin patch containing soap-scented oil to ease muscular spasms, menstrual cramps and the pain of fibromyalgia (Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, July 2008; Journal of Multidisciplinary Healthcare, Sept. 1, 2008). He got good results.

This physician hypothesized that soap scent had a biological effect. We agree. Limonene is a common fragrance in soap. Scientists report that it may inhibit pain by activating special TRPA1 channels (European Journal of Pain, August 2016). Even if this explanation is incorrect, a bar of soap under the bottom sheet seems like a safe possible solution for a painful problem.

Q: You recently wrote about how to prepare no-gas beans. You did not share my strategy. It never fails!

Cover beans with water and bring to a boil. Add 1 teaspoon of baking soda and boil for 10 to 15 minutes. Pour off the water. Add new water and seasonings and cook until done. You will have no-gas beans.

A: Thank you for your suggestion. Others have suggested a slightly different strategy. Use 9 parts water to 1 part beans. Bring beans to a boil and cook for three minutes. Allow the beans to cool for four hours and discard the water. Add fresh water and heat for half an hour. Once again, discard the cooking water. Finally, add more fresh water and cook until the beans are done, and discard the water the last time.

One reader said that Beano also is helpful in counteracting gas production. This product contains alpha-galactosidase, which breaks down the complex sugars in beans that give rise to flatulence.

Q: Due to cancer, my thyroid was removed. I’ve been on Synthroid ever since, despite telling my endocrinologist that I’m tired all the time. When I wake, I feel pretty good. Within an hour of taking Synthroid, I’m ready to go back to sleep.

I’ve asked my doctor for either Armour Thyroid or Nature-Throid, but get nowhere. She is interested only in lab results, not how I feel. Is there any research that might convince her?

A: There is research showing that some people do not convert T4 (Synthroid or levothyroxine) to the active T3 hormone (Nature Reviews. Endocrinology, November 2015). Our Guide to Thyroid Hormones and our one-hour radio show “Thyroid Mysteries, Controversies and the Latest Research” (show No. 1015) may change your doctor’s mind. Both are available at peoplespharmacy.com.

Q: What can you tell me about the valsartan recall? I have been taking the Solco product for some time. When I spoke with the pharmacist yesterday I was brushed off as if there was no problem. He acted as if the recall wasn’t a big deal and that they were doing nothing about it.

Should we customers call the Food and Drug Administration for advice? I am concerned about continuing to take the 90-day prescription that was filled a few days ago.

A: Valsartan (Diovan) is a widely prescribed heart and blood pressure medicine. The recall is a big deal! Some generic valsartan pills were contaminated with NDMA, a probable carcinogen.

A Chinese company (Zhejiang Huahai) sold contaminated valsartan to a number of generic drug manufacturers around the world. Solco Healthcare U.S. is a subsidiary of Huahai. Other U.S. companies affected include Major Pharmaceuticals and Teva’s Actavis valsartan.

The FDA states that “patients taking the recalled valsartan-containing medicines should continue taking their medicine until they have a replacement product.” Your pharmacy should provide you unaffected valsartan at no extra cost. If there are shortages, your doctor could prescribe a similar medication such as irbesartan, losartan, olmesartan or telmisartan. Our Guide to Blood Pressure Treatment provides information on such medications, along with a number of nondrug options. It is available at peoplespharmacy.com.

Q: NasalCrom actually works better for me than the allergy pills that cause side effects. I’ve been telling everyone about it for several years. It gets a lot of word-of-mouth recommendations. Maybe that is why we don’t see a huge advertising budget for it.

This nasal spray takes several days to kick in, but then it is wonderful. Rather than addressing symptoms you already have, it prevents you from having the symptoms in the first place. I now am back to being a person who just doesn’t have allergies!

A: Cromolyn (NasalCrom) stabilizes mast cells in the nose. These cells release histamine and other compounds when exposed to pollen and other allergens. Many other readers also report that NasalCrom nasal spray helps reduce or prevent allergy symptoms.

Q: I was prescribed clindamycin following a dental procedure. Two days after finishing it, I ended up with the worst diarrhea and stomach pains I have ever had in my life.

I have just been diagnosed with a C. difficile infection after suffering for nearly two weeks. Unfortunately, it will take another antibiotic to cure me of this horrendous condition. I will never take clindamycin again.

A: Clindamycin (Cleocin) is an antibiotic that has been prescribed for a wide range of bacterial infections affecting the skin, ears, bones, throat, lungs, joints and teeth. As helpful as it may be, this drug can produce severe, or even life-threatening, side effects.

One of the worst is Clostridium difficile associated diarrhea (CDAD). That’s because this antibiotic can change the ecology of the colon and allow for overgrowth of C. diff bacteria. The FDA warns that because clindamycin can cause ”severe colitis which may end fatally, it should be reserved for serious infections where less toxic antimicrobial agents are inappropriate.”

Overcoming a C. diff infection can be challenging. Even after successful treatment with another antibiotic, recurrence is possible. In extreme cases, doctors may perform a fecal transplant to restore a healthy balance of intestinal bacteria.

Contact the Graedons at peoplespharmacy.com.

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